OPINION

How H. Kwasi Prempeh got it all wrong on Spousal allowances

 

Let me confess, upon reading H. Kwasi Prempeh, the venerated law Professor’s view on the raging issue of spousal emoluments, I figured that maybe there was something the government could have interrogated better. And then, I cross-checked the facts.

I was shocked by how H. Kwasi Prempeh, the Director of the Centre for Democratic Governance either willfully got it wrong or had not seen the relevant recommendations of the Professor Yaa Ntiamoah-Baidu report.

Kindly allow me to share my thoughts on why I believe in all humility that H. Kwasi Prempeh and all those who are up in arms against this announcement are in the wrong.

Wrong Premise

Professor Prempeh argues that an Article 71 Emoluments Committee is allowed only to recommend “the salaries and other benefits and privileges of those officeholders specified in Article 71, clauses (1) and (2). That list of officeholders is exhaustive. The Article 71 Emoluments Committee has no authority to recommend payment of any allowance or emolument to First or Second Spouses, as these are not Article 71 offices or officeholders.”

This is the main anchor of Professor Prempeh’s argument. Well, this is also wrong. The Professor Ntiamoah-Baidu Committee expressly stated that the spouses of the President and his Vice WERE NOT article 71 holders hence, could not be paid salaries; neither did the Committee recommend that they are paid salaries or emoluments.

What the Committee recommended to Parliament was that the support given to spouses and surviving spouses of Presidents and Vice Presidents should be regularised and included in the privileges of Presidents and Vice Presidents. The intention is not to make Article 71 holders out of the wives of the President and Vice President but to recognise it as a privileged payment for them.

What’s the Difference?

Well, it is very simple. The First and Second Ladies and past bearers of that privilege are not the ones who are subject to the payments. They are, however, the ones intended to be catered for by the payment.

An example is a bodyguard or Police escort of a Minister of State. That bodyguard is not an Article71 holder. However, he receives allowances for being the bodyguard of the Article 71 holder.

So, the wives of the President and Vice President will then, receive allowances on the basis that their husbands are the topmost public officials in our land.

Rationale and History

According to Nana Ato Dadzie, the Former Chief of Staff under the NDC, it was President Rawlings who began the thinking that the First and Second Ladies should be put on some monthly allowances. Apologies to all propagandists, but this is not an Akufo-Addo creation.

The Professor Ntiamoah-Baidu Committee observed; “The administration of President Kufuor introduced the extension of courtesies including, the payment of monthly allowances to spouses of former heads of State/Presidents /Vice Presidents. The Mills and Mahama administrations subsequently, extended it to the spouses of Vice Presidents.”

So again, we note that this is not an Akufo-Addo policy. The payments were being made, but not regularised. What the 7th Parliament sought to do was to officially regularise it as a cost centre in the perks given to the President and Vice President and not sheath it in some “silent payments”.

The rationale for the payment seems to resonate with me. Were Professor H. Prempeh to become President H. Prempeh someday and assuming he was married, by some convention his wife would stop working. Though she would be unelected, she would be expected again, by convention to be seen and heard on pertinent issues relating especially, to women, children and human rights. The out-of-work wife would now be expected to also, look elegant and presentable as the “Mother and Role Model” of the nation. She would channel her energies into charitable causes and be travelling everywhere without an upkeep budget. Now, will it not be unfair for the First or Second Lady to depend on her husband for everything – shoe she buys or every dress she wears? And all this while, the husband would not have been given a line item in his salary that caters to these needs.

It is a bit of an ask and that is why in the United States, for instance, the clothing allowance for the First Lady is $ 100,000.

Whew! Even more poignant is the consideration of when the husband passes into eternity.

Consider former First Ladies Ernestina Naadu Mills and Mrs Amissah Arthur, both surviving spouses of former Vice Presidents who served with President Mahama. Were it not for these ‘discrete’ payments, I am sure we would not be proud of ourselves for the state of our former Second Ladies whom we held in high esteem.

Where do we go from here?

The NDC Youth wing says they will file a suit at the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of the recommendations and have them reversed.

Bono NPP Chairman, Kwame Baffoe Abronye has gone ahead of them to file a suit asking for the same things. This is a good move for our democracy, so we establish clearly what the way forward is.

While we wait for that, we have to be clear in our minds what this is not. It is definitely, not an attempt by the ruling class to smuggle in payments for their wives as alleged by the brilliant Professor Prempeh. It is also, not an attempt to feed off the largesse of the country, but a recommendation to address a pertinent matter that had been previously not looked into.

Concluding Concerns

Are the allowances to be received in perpetuity or they end when the lives of the spouses end? Since the allowances are tied to their husbands and the offices occupied by them, what happens when their husbands are no more?

Is this not ridiculously misogynistic that competent women like the First and Second Ladies will only be given allowances on the back of the positions of their husbands?

This issue must be debated taking into cognizance why the United States, for instance, pays all these allowances to their First Ladies, a practice which has been replicated in many places in the world, and how it has become part of the governance architecture. We can only learn from the best.
By the way! I am a huge fan of H. Kwasi Prempeh and will continue to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Dela Sedode (LLM student, University of Liverpool)

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